Are our Children learning? UWEZO Annual Learning Assessment Report
Talking notes – Zitto Kabwe, MP
“Are our children learning?” is now a catch question since the launch of the East African annual learning assessment report in the middle of 2011. Now we are launching a country report reflecting national data. Being asked to speak at the launch of this report was a bit of a challenge to me as I started to ask myself questions and try to remember my childhood. Was I learning when I was in Kigoma Primary School?
When I was in standard five, I was elected chairperson of Elimu ya Kujitegemea (EK) in my school. EK managed school projects like the school garden and as the chairperson I was a signatory to the EK school bank account. Without my signature, the headmaster would not withdraw money from this account, so I learnt about banking and basic financial management at a very young age. This was during the times when our education system was guided by a philosophy, “Education for Self-reliance”. Before, the philosophy was Education for Liberation, and I don’t remember when this country stopped this practice. I don’t know what our education philosophy is now!
Yes, I was learning, and I am sure my colleagues were learning as well. There was no Uwezo then to assess us, but even if there had been the assessment wouldn’t have found 3 out 10 standard three pupils who couldn’t have read a standard two basic story, wouldn’t have found 3 out of 10 pupils who couldn’t do very basic mathematics as we used to sing tables in classes, wouldn’t have found 20% of teachers being absent as discipline was high amongst teachers and inspectors were very effective. Moreover, one wouldn’t be able to find stark inequality between districts and even families, as pupils from the Rich and the Poor, studied in the same schools! From standard three to five my best friend was the son of Kigoma Regional Development Director (RDD), now the Regional Administrative Secretary, and from standard six to seven all the way to secondary, my best friend was a son of a TRA Regional Manager. I, coming from the poor family, was able to attend the same schools that children from the rich families were also attending! If there was Uwezo during our time, maybe they would have found a different story, that too many of our children couldn’t read English. So pupils of our times, if they would have been assessed by Uwezo, would have probably scored 4 out of 5. The story is different now!
In recent years, we have observed remarkable achievements in the education sector in our country. In 2010, the number of primary schools shot up from 11,873 in 2001 to 15,816 while primary school enrolment almost doubled from the earlier figure of 4,875,185 recorded in 2001 to 8,419,305 in 2010. This alone is a commendable effort in universalizing primary education as indicated in the Education for All commitments. Likewise, the advances in primary schools have gone hand in hand with exemplary achievements in secondary education. Currently, the country prides herself for making sure that there is at least one secondary school in every ward. There has been a sharp rise in the number of secondary schools from 937 in 2001 to 4,266 schools in 2010; a staggering rise of 355%. This rapid expansion of secondary education was meant to absorb the graduates of primary schools that were increasing year after year. And therefore, 1,638,699 students were enrolled in secondary schools in 2010, compared to only 289,699 enrolled in 2001. The number of teachers has also increased. In primary education, teachers have increased from 105,921 in 2001 to 165,856 in 2010 (an increase of 57%), and in secondary education, teachers have increased from 14,352 in 2001 to 40,517 in 2010 (an increase of 182%).
Very Sad, the expansion of Tanzania’s primary and secondary education does not match with the needed quality and objectives of Tanzania’s education as indicated in the country’s Education and Training Policy (ETP) of 1995. Some of the objectives highlighted in the policy that have rarely been featured in education provision itself include: “to prepare the student to join the world of work, to enable every child to acquire problem-solving skills, to inculcate a sense and ability for self-study, self-confidence and self-advancement in new frontiers of science and technology, academic and occupational knowledge and skills, and to enhance further development and appreciation of national unity, identity and ethics and personal integrity”.
Absence of these key competences and relevant knowledge and skills in graduates of various levels of education have not projected the value of education in the manner it is supposed to be; and this is probably the reason WHY this country more or less, looks like any other country that is yet to benefit from the education sector. For instance, unemployment is on the rise and the country is marred by low production, especially in the agricultural and industrial sectors. Even, employers are complaining that fresh graduates do not meet their expectations, and thus, they prefer importing skills from abroad even when more expensive.
I would argue that the recent efforts to expand primary and secondary education in Tanzania were driven by politics and did not trickle down to communities. The initiatives of the government have been in the hands of few people, leaving behind large sections of communities with little knowledge and resources to improve education in primary and secondary schools. Even worse, such education programmes have been implemented as directives from the education ministry, down to local governments and further down to the school level, forfeiting community ownership which would have been a big boost towards smooth implementation of these programmes.
In most of Tanzania’s primary and secondary schools there is no learning; teachers and students merely strategize how to tackle examination questions. This is uncalled for and has not helped improve performance on national examinations.
- Learning practices are deteriorating: While there has been much achievement in enrollment and expansion of facilities, the bigger question is “Are the children learning? What has been the focus inside the classroom?” The fact is, there has been very little or uncoordinated efforts have been made on learning outcomes. It is normal to find a standard 7 pupil who does not know how to read and write properly. (HakiElimu, 2007 & Uwezo 2010)
- Low morale of teachers: It is reported that most of teachers are not teaching, or spend very little time in the classroom; syllabi remain incomplete. Research by the African Economic Research Consortium & World Bank 2011, titled “Service Delivery Indicators: Pilot in Education and Health in Africa” reveal that in Tanzania, the average time a teacher spends in teaching is only 2 hours and 4 minutes instead of 5 hours per day. (AESC & World Bank, February 2011, p.9)
- Decline of pass rates among primary and secondary students: For instance, in 2010 form IV exams, 49.6% of students got division zero compared to only 9.7% in 2007. In primary education, only 53.5% of pupils passed their standard seven leaving examination in 2010 whereas 70.5% passed in 2006 (BEST 2011). The trend shows that education performance has been plummeting.
- Language: Which language (Swahili or English) should be used as the means of instruction in schools is still very controversial. The use of both languages of instruction negatively affects education in Tanzania.
- The current curriculum does not equip learners with necessary skills and competencies to enable them to compete in the globalized world. Most school graduates do not clearly understand the available opportunities in the country and therefore fail to utilize them.
- The quality of textbooks is debatable: There are abundant mistakes/errors and wrong content in many textbooks which mislead pupils/students and teachers (HakiElimu research, 2010), and this is no secret.
- Teachers are not well prepared: Due to many challenges facing teachers, the teaching profession has now become a bridge where people pass by while looking for better pay and respectable professions.
What should be done?
- Teacher quality (teachers motivation and incentives are critical); teaching practices in classrooms MUST be improved by advancing the teaching and learning process by preparing qualified and motivated teachers and equipping teachers with required teaching materials and facilities. (the focus should be on pedagogy – learning outcome)
- Improve teaching and learning environment in public schools.
- There should be effective and well-designed supervision of teachers to ensure accountability of teachers and quality of teaching in classrooms.
- It is time for Tanzania to use a single language as a medium of instruction in classes but more importantly to enable teachers to master whatever language is used for instruction.
- The content of curriculum should reflect the current needs of the society. Issues such as critical thinking, problem-solving techniques, and entrepreneurial skills should be part and parcel of the curriculum.
- Teach our children to be civil, PATRIOTIC, and accountable for their country.
In concluding these remarks, I would like to strongly point out for discussion the issue of INEQUALITY. The report we are launching today shows, ‘children of the better off do much better than those of the less well off,’ and this is alarming. In my speech in Parliament during the 2008 budget session, I raised the issue of having a nation that is widely divided into the Rich and the Poor.
The Uwezo assessment clearly testifies to this increasing gap of inequality in learning. The fact that a pupil from Kibondo, the region I come from, is likely to complete just 9% of the assessment compared to 95% by a pupil from Bukoba Urban tells a lot about the nation we are building. This growing Inequality is a time-bomb and must be addressed by focusing all our vigor on rural development underpinned by robust rural growth – rural economy, rural energy, rural roads, rural water supply and rural social services like education and health; As the American President, Abraham Lincoln once said, “A HOUSE DIVIDED CANNOT STAND!
Thank you very much
*Photos courtesy of Pernille Bærendtsen taken in Kigoma Kaskazini Constituency
 Delivered at the launch of Uwezo Report on the 15th September, 2011.